Saturday, September 30, 2017

when trees as gilded as bees

Above the 61st parallel, the colors of Autumn mark our parting with the bees, and the last days of real warmth.

I had begun to translate another poem of Mandelstam's which I enjoy, but then I discovered an excellent translation/adaptation (it's not an exact translation, but more of an artistic rendering) of the poem by someone named Christian Wiman, which I liked better than my first attempt, or W.S. Merwin's version, and so I am sharing it here:

The Necklace

Take, from my palms, for joy, for ease, 
A little honey, a little sun, 
That we may obey Persephone’s bees.

You can’t untie a boat unmoored. 
Fur-shod shadows can’t be heard, 
Nor terror, in this life, mastered.

Love, what’s left for us, and of us, is this 
Living remnant, loving revenant, brief kiss 
Like a bee flying completed dying hiveless

To find in the forest’s heart a home, 
Night’s never-ending hum, 
Thriving on meadowsweet, mint, and time.

Take, for all that is good, for all that is gone, 
That it may lie rough and real against your collarbone, 
This string of bees, that once turned honey into sun.

-- Osip Mandelstam (translated/adapted by Christian Wiman)

Here is a link to the original, in Russian, which was written in 1920.

Christian Wiman wrote an eye-catching editorial on poetry, entitled "In Praise of Rareness," which is posted here

"I think a strong case can be made that the more respect you have for poetry, the less of it you will find adequate to your taste and needs." 

The various translations of Antonio Machado's famous poem about bees, when they have washed up on on my shores, have appeared like a breath of heart's ease to assuage the sting of the recollections of my own mistakes (literary or otherwise):

Last night as I lay sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

One of the most memorable dreams I've had during the past year was of a huge bee buzzing among scarlet poppies. It came to me on a cold winter night. I'd like to invite it to visit me again, any night, to gather nectar.

Monday, September 25, 2017

two Mandelstam poems

Because moods flutter onto our shoulders like cloaks and then dart away, as the young Osip Mandelstam knew well. He wrote this at around age 20, while traveling in Berlin. 

I am not quite happy with this translation, but I'll put it out there, I'll let it go, while I wonder how the trees feel about letting go, at this time of year. 

Let the wild be what it will be.  

Hiding like a snake inside myself,
Winding like ivy around myself,
I rise up above myself:

I crave myself, I fly to myself,
With dark wings I thrash about,
Unfurling them above water;

Then, like a frightened eagle,
returning bereft of a nest
that slipped into an abyss --

I will cleanse lightning by fire
and, banishing the thunderbolt,
will dissolve into a chilly cloud!

-- Osip Mandelstam

August 2010

Here is another of Mandelstam's early poems:

I know how to release the soul
from all that is external:
I hear the song boil in my blood --
and am quickly intoxicated.

For my own matter,
when on the verge of melting,
is linked together again,
into its original rings.

There in the impartial ether
our essences are hung --
starry weights are cast
into trembling cups;

And in the joy of limitation
is the ecstasy of life:
the remembrance of the body
of its unchanging homeland.

July 1911

*              *                *

В самом себе, как змей, таясь,
Вокруг себя, как плющ, виясь,—
Я подымаюсь над собою:

Себя хочу, к себе лечу,
Крылами темными плещу,
Расширенными над водою;

И, как испуганный орел,
Вернувшись, больше не нашел
Гнезда, сорвавшегося в бездну,—

Омоюсь молнии огнем
И, заклиная тяжкий гром,
В холодном облаке исчезну!

-- Осип Мандельштам

Август 1910

Душу от внешних условий
Освободить я умею:
Пенье - кипение крови
Слышу - и быстро хмелею.

И вещества, мне родного
Где-то на грани томленья,
В цепь сочетаются снова
Первоначальные звенья.

Там в беспристрастном эфире
Взвешены сущности наши -
Брошены звёздные гири
На задрожавшие чаши;

И в ликованьи предела
Есть упоение жизни:
Воспоминание тела
О... неизменной отчизне...

Июль 1911

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